While many Pittsburgh Steelers faithful have real concerns about their team this year, as well as their level of talent, the defense in particular still features a number of blue-chip players who have been able to annually make Pro Bowl and All-Pro lists.
At the top of every list for the team is T.J. Watt, who has been high in the running for the Defensive Player of the Year Award for two consecutive years, after leading the league in sacks in 2020, just the second Steeler to ever do that.
But, once again, he’s not on the top of Pro Football Focus’ list of the top edge defenders. Continually and consistently, they have had the Chicago Bears’ Khalil Mack ranked ahead of him, despite his failing to hit double digit sacks for two years running, without missing a game.
“PFF’s wins above replacement metric, PFF WAR, pegged Mack as the league’s most valuable edge rusher in 2020, and that dominance extends back to his rookie season in 2014”, Ben Linsey wrote. “Mack has recorded an overall grade above 85.0 in each of his first seven NFL seasons”.
Mack did record nine sacks last season, with an interception, three forced fumbles, 11 tackles for loss, and 13 quarterback hits, so that’s nothing to sneeze at, for sure. In comparison, Watt posted 15 sacks, with one interception, two forced fumbles, 23 tackles for loss, and 41 quarterback hits. But numbers don’t tell the full story.
“Going purely off of pass-rushing production, it’s difficult to top what Watt has been able to do over the past two seasons in Pittsburgh”, Linsey noted. “He leads all edge defenders in sacks (29.5) and quarterback hits (46) since 2019, falling just short of Shaquil Barrett in total pressures. Watt turned in PFF grades of 91.3 and 91.6 in those two seasons; he has developed into a legitimate Defensive Player of the Year candidate and one of the premier edge rushers in the NFL”.
He doesn’t quite explain why Mack, though, is better than Watt. Of course that’s to take nothing from Mack, who is an excellent player in his own right. But for someone who has seen every professional snap of Watt’s career, it’s hard to imagine anybody better than he has been over the past two years, let alone better at his own position.
The good news is that it doesn’t matter what Pro Football Focus thinks. Watt, the newly-engaged and last to be engaged of the Watt clan, is primed for another fantastic season. But before then, he’ll also become extremely wealthy, as he and the Steelers work out what figures to be a record-breaking contract extension heading into the 2021 season.